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May 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic: It’s also a mental health issue

At a glance
The team

Mental Health Research Canada and Mitacs.

The challenge

Providing solutions, resources, and support for mental health challenges that Canadians are facing due to several factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The solution

By entering into a partnership and joining forces, Mitacs and Mental Health Research Canada are co-funding grants and other initiatives to build important bridges between research and practice.

 

The outcome

Mitacs and Mental Health Research Canada entered into an initial three-year agreement promising to fund up to 10 projects a year. However, the partnership has been so successful that it was able to generate funding for 22 projects across almost every Canadian province in its second year alone.

A partnership between Mitacs and Mental Health Research Canada is addressing the mental health challenges of Canadians, almost a quarter of whom report feeling anxious or depressed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gustavo Betini, a PhD student in the school of Public Health Science at the University of Waterloo, has spent the past year immersed in studying the mental health effects of COVID-19. His research has shown that, even though fear of contracting the virus is waning, almost a quarter of Canadians continue to report having high anxiety and depression related to the pandemic. Betini’s work is part of a research internship where he is collecting data on Canadians’ mental health and sharing it publicly while piloting a first-of-its-kind national mental health database to increase mental health services and resources in Canada. 

Indira Riadi is a PhD student in the department of Gerontology at Simon Fraser University. She is working with the West End Seniors Network, Vancouver’s second-largest not-for-profit seniors center, to identify ways to improve the social lives and mental well-being of ethnic and gender/sexual minority seniors during COVID-19 and beyond. 

University of Calgary student Nashit Chowdhury is working with the Association of International Medical Graduates of Alberta (AIMGA) to study the mental health of visible minority essential workers in Alberta. His project will combine quantitative data with qualitative interviews and focus groups to better understand the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on front-line workers who are members of vulnerable populations. 

These are but three of the over 20 projects covering a range of topics, including the mental health impact of the pandemic, that have come out of a partnership between Mitacs and Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC). Beginning in 2020, the partnership was created to help support the development of the next generation of mental health researchers. The collaboration provides funding for students from eligible institutions across Canada to engage in innovative and relevant mental health research. 

Building bridges between research and practice

Originally a three-year agreement that was meant to provide funding for a total of 10 students a year, the Mitacs-MHRC partnership has been more fruitful than expected. With 22 projects receiving funding in the second year of the partnership alone, this collaboration has shown tremendous growth, with a student in almost every Canadian province receiving support. 

The collaboration is designed to narrow the gap between research and practice and ensure stakeholder engagement. By partnering researchers with either a front-line mental health service provider or members of a target community to integrate the insights of people with lived experience, interns gain practical skills and are able to expand their networks. 

While the Mitacs-MHRC partnership exists to provide support for all types of mental health challenges and has funded a variety of proposals, on topics including Indigenous mental health and more, given the timely launch of the collaboration in 2020, many of the initial projects that have come out of the initiative were COVID-19-related. 

“Many of the applications we received when we put out the first call were COVID-focused and emphasized the importance of virtual care and digital literacy to promote social situations, especially among the elderly, despite perhaps being in a lockdown situation,” explains Sarah Murphy, Coordinator, Research & Executive Engagement, MHRC and a former Mitacs intern herself. “Since then, we’ve seen a great expansion in being able to support projects for a variety of high-need populations across Canada thanks our partnership with Mitacs.” 

Betini, whose MHRC-Mitacs placement focuses on analysing COVID-19 mental health data, says: “There’s a sense in the population that the pandemic is going away, and everything is going to be fine, but the data shows that we will continue to see a high level of anxiety and depression from the effects of the disease itself for quite some time,” he adds. “The more we dive into some of the detailed aspects, the more we discover that certain groups within society are more affected by the pandemic than other groups.” 

“Partnerships are at the very core of our work and partnering with Mitacs has been invaluable in being able to build imperative bridges between research and practice,” expressed Akela Peoples, CEO of MHRC. “Supporting mental health research and ensuring that student researchers get important front-line, community-based experience is important, now more than ever. By working together with Mitacs to support early career researchers in mental health, we are building a researcher pipeline at a time when we need it most,” she adds. 

To mark Mental Health Week, MHRC is reminding Canadians that mental health supports can be found at Wellness Together Canada

About MHRC: 

MHRC is a national, charitable organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of the 1 in 5 Canadians – over 7 million people – living with mental illness. The impact is profound: mental illness affects their physical well-being, their relationships with family and friends, and their ability to work. MHRC is here to change that. We advance mental health research that is problem-solving, cost-effective, and usable in the real world, transforming treatments and prevention in creative and collaborative ways. Because we are committed to building knowledge that will have practical application and deep impact, we begin with those who will use it – people with lived experience. We also consult and partner with other stakeholders, including other mental health organizations, social agencies, entrepreneurs, business, and government. More information is available on their website at www.mhrc.ca